Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“A quiet place to be” in Mission Township August 31, 2022

Looking skyward at Mission Park, where slim, towering pines are prevalent. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

MISSION PARK IN MISSION TOWNSHIP, “a quiet place to be” north of Merrifield in the Brainerd lakes region, rates as a favorite hiking spot when I’m at the lake. The extended family cabin is conveniently located about two miles away.

At the end of a grassy trail, the woods open to a pollinator garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I enjoy walking here along the 3/4-mile paved trail that winds primarily through the woods. Grassy paths are another option, but I typically keep to the hard surface, with one exception. That deviation is the grassy route leading to an open field Pollinator Habitat.

Milkweeds fill the prairie garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

A dragonfly clings to a stalk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I’ve always loved the dusky hue of the milkweed flower. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Last trip to the cabin in early July, Randy and I discovered the field of milkweeds and other pollinator-attracting plants pulsing with dragonflies. I’ve always delighted in dragonflies—how they flit, their translucent wings beautiful to behold.

Dragonflies up close are a study in intricacy and beauty. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

But dragonflies also pause, giving photographers like me ample opportunity to photograph them up close. To see and capture details of webbed wings, of hairy legs, of bulging eyes…proves rewarding, amazing, wondrous. This insect is so intricate.

The lone Monarch caterpillar I spotted. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I noticed, too, a chunky Monarch caterpillar descending a milkweed stalk. Milkweed is a host plant of the caterpillar which will eventually form a chrysalis and later emerge as a Monarch butterfly, now considered an endangered species.

A wide view of the Pollinator Habitat. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Days later, I led the way back to the Pollinator Habitat to show my granddaughter, her little brother and parents the dragonfly haven. The insects were not as abundant and the crew was less than impressed, especially when Randy discovered a wood tick on his leg. Not a deer tick, but the common wood tick which I am quite familiar with as is Randy. We both grew up on farms and wood ticks were a natural part of our outdoor summer adventures.

Marc, left to right, Isaac and Randy head out of the woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

The six of us quickly exited the pollinator patch right after Randy’s revelation, which he should have kept to himself.

Every time I’m here, I discover a different fungi in the woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I had hoped to walk along the paved trail to show everyone the massive orange mushroom I spotted previously. But, instead, we headed back to the park’s main recreational area.

The grandkids loved the new playground equipment. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Mission Park offers plenty of play space for those who prefer to stay off grassy trails into the woods. Like new playground equipment.

A spacious pavilion among the pines, next to the playground, provides a place to gather. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Other recreational options abound with several pickleball courts, disc golf, a ball field, tennis courts, horseshoe pits and volleyball courts. A pavilion offers shelter for outdoor dining. Noticeably missing are bathrooms. There are outhouses, though, with which I am also familiar having used one for the first 11 years of my life.

Thistles flourish in the Pollinator Habitat. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I appreciate the forward thinking of the good folks of Mission Township who, in 1959, purchased 39 acres for $1 with the intent of maintaining the natural beauty of the land and making it available for recreational use.

Ferns, one of my favorite plants, grow wild in the woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2020)

This “quiet place to be” has quickly become a favorite nearby place to explore whenever I’m at Jon and Rosie’s lake cabin.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Loon observations from Crosslake August 30, 2022

A loon swims in Horseshoe Lake in central Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

IF THE SMALL TOWN of Crosslake in the central Minnesota lakes region has an identifying symbol, it would be the loon. It’s everywhere. On signs. On lakes. And soon to be the focus of a new interactive, educational and recreational center.

Temporary home to the National Loon Center in Crosslake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

The National Loon Center is slated to open in the spring of 2024 in Crosslake. For now, a temporary office and information center, The Nest, is located at Crosslake Town Square. I haven’t been there. Yet.

Signage for Crosslake Town Square features a loon graphic. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I’m excited about the forthcoming center, which will enlighten me about the Minnesota state bird. Up until I started going Up North to the cabin several years ago, the loon was mostly an unfamiliar bird to me. If there are loons in southern Minnesota, I haven’t seen them. Minnesota is home to an estimated 12,000 loons, their habitat primarily in central and northern lakes.

Photographed from a distance, the loon family on Horseshoe Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Now each visit to my sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s lake property south of Crosslake, I hope to see loons. This summer I enjoyed plenty of loon watching as a family of four swam the waters on our side of Horseshoe Lake.

I observed this behavior once, of a loon rising from the lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

It’s entertaining to watch these birds swim close together, the parents obviously protecting their two young offspring. It’s interesting, too, to see how the adults dive underwater, resurfacing a significant distance away. I’m especially intrigued by their haunting call. There’s no other word to describe the voice of the loon.

A loon photographed near the Horseshoe Lake cabin dock. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

On our final morning at the cabin in early July, Randy called me to come quick to the dock. The loons were the closest they’d been during our four-day stay. Just off the dock. It was then that I got my best photos. My daughter and granddaughter got even closer when a loon landed next to them while they were paddleboarding during a recent stay at the lake.

To the right in this frame, you can see a boat nearing the loon on Horseshoe Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I wonder about the closeness of people to these birds. I worried about recreational boaters speeding across the lake and possibly hitting the loon family. It seemed a real possibility at times. I imagine the speedboats and jet skis and water-skiers stress the loons.

A loon photo graces the side of a truck parked in a parking lot across from Crosslake Town Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Once the Loon Center opens, I’ll be more informed about the red-eyed common loon with the black head and ringed neck and distinctive patterned black-and-white feathers layering over a white body. There’s simply no mistaking a loon’s identity. Adults weigh 7-13 pounds.

A loon family and a boater mingle on Horseshoe Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

This lovely and distinct bird symbolizes not only Crosslake and the surrounding area, but Minnesota. In 2019, Minnesota lawmakers appropriated $4 million for the National Loon Center. Fundraising is also part of the financing plan. In the end, the loons will benefit as the center aims to protect and restore loon habitat, to research this beautiful waterfowl and to teach all of us about our state bird.

TELL ME: Have you seen a loon? I’d like to hear about your observations of loons.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The Minnesota experience: Going Up North to the cabin August 29, 2022

Homemade roadside signs identify lakeshore property owners along Horseshoe Lake. These signs are posted all over lake cabin country. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

FOR MANY MINNESOTANS, summer means going Up North. That escape to lake and cabin country has been, for me, elusive, not part of my personal history, until recently. Now, thanks to the generosity of a sister-in-law and brother-in-law, who own lake shore property in the central Minnesota lakes region, going Up North is part of my summertime, and sometimes autumn, experience.

Randy and our granddaughter, Isabelle, 6, head onto the dock in Horseshoe Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Now I understand what I’ve missed—the peacefulness of simply getting away from it all, the beauty of immersing one’s self in nature, the quieting of the spirit beside the water, in the woods, on the beach.

A northwoods style cabin across the lake from where we stay. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

In this land of 10,000-plus lakes, I’ve discovered the draw of lake life. I grew up on a crop and dairy farm in southwestern Minnesota, where lakes are few. I can count on three fingers the number of vacations during my youth—one to Duluth at age four, one to the Black Hills of South Dakota as a pre-teen and then camping once with an aunt and uncle at Potato River Falls in Wisconsin. That’s it. Cows have a way of keeping farm families home. My kids will tell you that our family vacations were mostly to visit grandparents with a few camping trips and other close by trips tossed in. No going Up North to a cabin.

I love the kitschy roadside signs pointing to lake properties. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

But now, oh, now, several summers into going Up North to the lake cabin, I fully embrace what so many Minnesotans hold in their family histories.

Sailing on Horseshoe Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Waterskiing is part of the lake experience for some. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)
Sunset on Horseshoe Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

The appeal of a lake comes for me not in boats or jet skis or sailboats or kayaks or paddleboards, but rather in the natural aspect. The sun rising over the lake, painting pink across the sky. The sun lowering, bathing the far shore treeline in dusk’s light. The moon rising.

Loons glide across Horseshoe Lake near the dock. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

And then in the water, the watching of loons as they glide, duck, emerge, their haunting voices breaking the silence of early morning. I never tire of seeing them, of hearing their call, of observing babies swim near their protective parents.

A loon family seemingly unbothered by a nearby pontoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

For a few summers, eagles lived in a nest on the family lake property. To see those massive birds on-site, flying into the treetop nest, perched there, proved fascinating. They’ve moved on to another location and eagle sightings are infrequent.

A bluegill caught from the dock. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

The clarity of Horseshoe Lake continues to impress me. I can see fish swimming in schools and some singularly. That’s vastly different from southern Minnesota lakes, most murky and green. Unappealing. But here fish bite by the dock, exciting the grandchildren and Grandma, too.

Typically the adults make a brewery stop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Our eldest daughter and her family are part of this Up North experience and it is perhaps that which most pleases me. To have this time together—eating meals lakeside, swimming, fishing, taking nature walks, sitting around a campfire and making s’mores, going into Crosslake for ice cream or craft beer—all of these moments I treasure. We are connecting, making memories, delighting in one another in a beautiful and peaceful setting. If only our other daughter and her husband and our son could join us, then my joy would be complete. But given the distance they live from Minnesota and their job and school obligations, I don’t expect a full house at the cabin.

Randy fishes with both the grandchildren, here Isaac, age three. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

So I celebrate the Up North time we have, whether just Randy and me at the cabin or six of us. I love walking the long drive buffeted by towering pines. I love the stillness of the lake in the early morning. I love the crackle of burning wood and the taste of gooey s’mores. I love the lack of obligations and schedule and plenty of time to read a book or lounge on the beach, the sun warming the sand and my skin. I love every minute with those I love. I love that going Up North is now part of my life story, even if it took well into my sixties to write that chapter.

TELL ME: If you’re from Minnesota, do you go Up North? If you’re from elsewhere, do you have a similar escape? Please share. I’d love to hear your stories.

Please check back for more posts about going Up North.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


New Minnesota State Fair food features duck eggs from Graise Farm August 26, 2022

All Quacked Up! open-faced sandwich. (Photo source: The Hideaway Speakeasy Facebook page/Minnesota State Fair)

WHEN MY FAIR-THEMED FOOD POST published yesterday, I had no idea that duck eggs from a rural Faribault farm are the focus of a new Minnesota State Fair food.

But then a newsletter from Graise Farm landed in my email Thursday morning and I knew immediately I needed to share this fair food update. Duck eggs from the farm owned by Tiffany Tripp and Andy Olson are featured in All Quacked Up!, a new open-faced sandwich created by The Hideaway Speakeasy. This is kind of a big deal for co-owners of this farm north of Cannon City, which is northeast of Faribault.

Graise Farm eggs, photographed at the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2021)

On Tuesday, Andy delivered 2,600 duck eggs to the Hideway fair location in the upper grandstand veranda area. Graise Farm has committed to providing 5,000 eggs.

Besides my excitement for Tiffany and Andy, who truly are deserving of this sale and the resulting exposure this will give their business, I love the name. All Quacked Up! is memorable and just plain fun. And even if I’m not a fried egg foodie, the sandwich sounds tasty. Here’s its description:

Fried, farm-fresh duck egg from Graise Farm in Faribault atop shaved smoked ham, aged cheddar cheese, tomato and spinach, served open-face on toasted sourdough bread with paprika aioli.

When I consider a fried egg sandwich, I think of my dairy and crop farmer father who often ate fried eggs for breakfast. Chicken, not duck, eggs. Plain, not fancy. Fried in lard, seasoned with salt and pepper. I can picture him now in his striped bib overalls, forking mouthfuls of egg, the yolk running across his dinner plate. And then, when the egg was mostly gone, he sopped up the remaining yolk with a slice of toasted homemade bread.

I expect many other farm kids share that fried egg memory. Perhaps even Tiffany, who left the family farm after earning degrees in agricultural economics and Spanish to work and travel the world, then returned to the family farmstead in 2012. Andy isn’t a farm kid. But, together he and Tiffany embrace rural life, sharing their passions of “raising animals humanely and eating healthy, delicious food grown locally.” Their animals are pasture-raised and/or organic-fed, including those free-range ducks.

You’ll find Graise Farm eggs at this food co-op in Northfield, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The pair raises ducks, chickens, pigs and goats. They sell eggs, pork, and stew chickens and ducks. For more information, visit the Graise Farm website, which lists locations to buy those typically jumbo-sized duck eggs. And, yes, that includes in the Twin Cities metro.


FYI: Tiffany was instrumental in establishing the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market with food and products from small-scale farmers and producers in the Cannon River Valley. In the warm weather months, that market is open from 4 – 7pm Thursdays at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. Cold weather moves the market indoors to the Faribo West Mall.

Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


From Minnesota: A virtual taste of fair food August 25, 2022

A dessert specialty at the Farmer’s Delights food stand at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. The fair was held in late July. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

IF I WAS ATTENDING the Minnesota State Fair, which opens today and runs through Labor Day, I’d try these three new foods: Pickle Pizza, Sweet Potato Poutine and Minneblueberry Pie. Those were my quick picks while scrolling through the 39 new food offerings listed on the fair website. The fair, has, after all, become seemingly food-focused.

Food booths near the Rice County Fair grandstand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But I’m not going to the Great Minnesota Get Together. I haven’t been there in decades. I find nothing appealing about the massive crowds, the pressing together of fair-goers, the congestion, the waiting in lines, the dealing with metro traffic. Nope. Not my thing.

Homemade signage tops the Farmer’s Delights food vendor building. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Yet, many Minnesotans love the State Fair and there are many reasons to appreciate it from the Seed Art to the entertainment to all that vended food.

A sign marks the St. Luke’s food booth at the Rice County Fair. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My youthful fair memories—I attended a few times—are of the giant slide, Machinery Hill (no longer there), an overly-crowded conservation building stocked with fish and dining at a church diner.

The Rice County Fair office near the grandstand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

That brings me to the Rice County Fair, done and over for this summer, but set for July 19-23, 2023. I didn’t attend this year and haven’t for several. But I should return, check out the food stands, see what I’ve missed.

I passed the Bingo shed in the heart of the Rice County Fairgrounds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)
On the east end of the fairgrounds, I paused to photograph this sunflower in the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Even this sign on a utility box drew by eye. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Recently, I walked through a section of the vacated fairgrounds, camera in hand, with no worries about bumping into fair-goers. My primary focus was on signage, on food service buildings, some of them aged, some new. I never made it to the animal barns.

A line-up of permanent food booths at the Rice County Fair. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The Rice County Fair does a good job of drawing local food vendors, many mainstays of the fair. Like the St. Luke’s booth, stationed here for nearly 80 years.

A sign marks the cafe run by Bethlehem Academy, a Catholic High School in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And the Cardinal Cafe which, according to the Bethlehem Academy website, has been a decades-long fair tradition serving burgers, brats, “Lunch Lady cookies,” and other refreshing treats to fair-goers. Their sign says the cafe has been here since the 1950s.

The Pork Booth sits near the grandstand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Likewise, the Rice County Pork Producers have been around for some 50 years serving pulled pork, sandwiches, pork burgers and pork chops on-a-stick.

The 4-H building is named after radio personality Dean Curtis. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)
Propped against a building post fair. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

On the door to the 4-H building. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And 4-Hers (along with their parents), I expect, have served food for decades at the 4-H Food Stand.

Most food vendors have mobile units while others are housed in buildings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The gastronomical offerings far exceed what I’m showing you from my brief post-fair visit. Many locally-based concession stands are mobile, without on-site buildings like that of Farmer’s Delights. That needs to be noted here. I expect Rice County fair-goers find plenty to please their palates.

The Rice County Fair grandstand ticket booth. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Just like the Minnesota State Fair, food rates highly in the overall county fair experience. Whether at a rural Minnesota fair or the biggest fair in the state, options abound to eat traditional—roasted corn-on-the-cob, mini-donuts, cheese curds—to that which expands our Minnesota taste buds well beyond Ole and Lena’s Tator Tot Hot Dish on-a-stick with cream of mushroom dipping sauce.

TELL ME: What’s your favorite fair food? County or State Fair, doesn’t matter, although please specify.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A tale from Buckman, not of Billygoats but of a ballpark August 24, 2022

Outside Bell Field in Faribault, two oversized baseballs flank the ballpark entry. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

AH, SUMMER IN MINNESOTA. It is, unequivocally, a season packed with outdoor activities. Like baseball. I’m not a fan. But many are.

Beautiful and historic Bell Field in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A banner welcomes baseball fans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A section of the stands at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My community of Faribault, along with neighboring Dundas and Miesville, is currently hosting the Minnesota Baseball Association State Amateur Tournament in Classes B and C. That means lots of teams and fans are in town on the weekend to watch baseball at Faribault’s Bell Field.

Brackets posted at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My husband, Randy, was among the spectators Saturday evening when his hometown team, the Buckman Billygoats, faced the Cannon Falls Bears. In the end, the Billygoats defeated the Bears 7-1. They will be back at Bell Field at 4:30 p.m. Saturday to play the Luverne Redbirds.

Downtown Buckman, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020)

Even though 48 years have passed since Randy left the family farm southeast of Buckman, he remains forever rooted to this small town in Morrison County in central Minnesota. He is connected to the baseball field there, just south of St. Michael’s Catholic Church. Not because he played ball. No, not that. There’s a story, though…

The playing field at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the summer of 1972, Randy joined a team of teenagers in painting a new outfield fence. When I write fence, I mean 4 x 8-foot plywood panels pieced together. The six teens went through lots of barn red paint, purchased in 5-gallon buckets.

Businesses advertise at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Local businesses could pay to advertise. Randy and his co-workers, employed through a summer community action program for low income families, stenciled, then painted the business names onto the fence panels. Cindy and Marge traced the stencils, then they all (including Randy’s older sister Vivian) brushed the letters in with white paint.

Rules posted in a Bell Field dug-out. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But as Randy tells the story, the owner of the local grocery store deviated from the plan and decided to craft his own bold advertisement. He removed the two centerfield panels, painted them green and stenciled his business name thereon. And, remembers Randy, those fence sections stuck out like… Exactly as intended.

Bell Field has its own version of Bottle Cap Stadium in its BEER CAVE. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Randy holds other memories from that summer of working at the ballpark in Buckman. He remembers a homemade sign labeling the field as Bottle Cap Stadium. Somebody (he has his suspicions) picked up beer and bottle caps from the grounds, formed the identifying words from the caps and then nailed them onto plywood.

Bell Field is home to The Lakers, who just missed making this year’s tournament. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

He also recalls a sign tagging the ball field as “The Home of the Buckman Saints.” Whether the ball team was ever called the Saints is uncertain. But it makes sense given St. Michael’s Catholic Church and School just to the north.

On rainy days when the team of teens couldn’t work at the ballpark, they painted classrooms. Randy recalls the day he and the rest prepared to paint Mrs. Weber’s classroom. Rose Weber, mother of Minnesota author and forensic psychologist Frank Weber, was Randy’s fifth grade teacher and is likely related to current Billygoats player Aaron Weber. She chose pink and blue for her classroom. “Who picked these colors?” Reuben at the hardware store asked. Mrs. Weber was later called in to assess a section of newly-painted wall in her chosen color combo.

“She looked at it, didn’t like it and picked green and yellow, John Deere green and yellow,” Randy said. I can only imagine how those farm kids viewed the tractor colors chosen for the fifth grade classroom.

A baseball lodged in overhead netting at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Circling back to the beginning…, if not for Randy’s attendance at the Buckman Billygoats’ baseball game last Saturday evening in Faribault, I never would have heard these stories from the Summer of 1972. Nor would I have learned this about my husband of 40 years: “You wonder why I don’t like to paint,” he said. “I was sick of painting that summer.”

Point taken.

More stories will be written at the state tournaments. Here’s hoping the Buckman Billygoats win on Saturday. If anyone knows where Randy can get a Billygoats t-shirt, please comment. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But, my sister-in-law Vivian noted, “We sure had a lot of fun!” Some Buckman ballpark-related stories shall remain unwritten…

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


When you’re reading a book and… August 23, 2022

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Book cover source: Goodreads

MY APOLOGIES TO ANYONE who checks out When We Were Young by Richard Roper from Buckham Memorial Library. I’m sorry about the smears at the top of page 309 in chapter forty-eight, the chapter wherein main characters Joel and Theo get some really good news. I did not intentionally smear the page with an unknown-to-the-next-reader substance.

Near shore, a seagull wings across Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2017)

Here’s my story, summarized in a family text I sent Sunday evening:

I just had the most disgusting thing happen. I’m sitting on the patio reading & I feel something wet hit the side of my face. A bird pooped on my face, my glasses & my book! Yuck! Dad looked up to see a bunch of gulls flying around. This is NOT Duluth or anywhere near water.

It should be noted here that, before texting anyone, I wiped the bird poop from below my eye and from the book and that Randy washed my glasses. A bit later I also splashed water into my eye, which was feeling a tad odd.

A gull landed by Randy and me as we ate a picnic lunch near Serpent Lake in Crosby earlier this summer. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I should have anticipated that my family would have a bit of fun with this unfortunate incident. The granddaughter hoped for a photo. Randy said he could have taken one. He observed that the gulls had a pretty good aim for being 200 feet high. Gee, thanks, dear husband. He also wondered whether our actuary son-in-law could determine the chances of this happening again. That’s OK. I don’t need to know those odds.

But the other son-in-law shared that being pooped on by a bird means good luck in England, where he lived as a child and was also pooped upon once. I confirmed that in an online search—the poop-luck correlation. Now luck I’ll take, even though I didn’t feel one bit lucky when I felt a splat upon my face and then realized what had happened.

Yet, the poop did land on that page in a fictional book when two friends get double good news. Now what are the odds of that?

TELL ME: Do you have a similar story to share?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


No BINGO for Grandma August 22, 2022

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A BINGO cage at a church fundraiser. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

SHORTLY AFTER SCRAMBLING out of her sleeping bag, before she got dressed for the day and wolfed down two slices of toast smothered in peanut butter and strawberry jelly, my 6-year-old granddaughter was already asking, “Grandma, when can we play BINGO?” It was only 7:15 a.m. and her brother was still sleeping. I was in my PJs, hadn’t had coffee or breakfast yet and needed to toss clothes in the wash.

But Isabelle was singularly focused. Her love for BINGO was sparked by playing the game at the annual Helbling family reunion six days prior. Young and old alike gathered in the shelter at Palmer Park in central Minnesota to try their luck at this time-honored game of chance. The prizes ranged from kitchen gadgets for the adults to ring pops, play dough and more for the kids. Nothing costly. Just simple prizes. But, more importantly, time together making memories.

Placing BINGO balls in the caller’s board during a church festival. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

With that backstory, Izzy was delighted to find BINGO balls, a cage, cards and tokens inside a box at Grandpa and Grandma’s house when she and Isaac, 3, arrived for an overnight visit. That first evening we played plenty of BINGO with Izzy as the caller, then Grandpa, then grandfather and grandson. I was content to play. The kids were happy to win small coinage.

Given her enthusiasm, Izzy asked to play BINGO again the next day. I promised, but did not expect game time to commence at her requested 7:15 a.m.

Finally, by 9 a.m., we gathered around the dining room table for our first round of BINGO. Except the start was delayed again…because I got up to do something and on the way back to my chair, while skirting around Randy, stubbed my little toe on the peninsula baseboard. Not just the type of stub that stings for maybe a minute, but rather a serious “insert a bad word I thought but couldn’t say” type of pain. Randy remarked that he heard a snap. Not good.

This is a photo of an x-ray showing the implant in my wrist, held in place by 10 screws. I shattered my wrist in June 2018 after slipping on rain-slicked wooden steps while wearing flip flops. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018)

I assessed that I’d likely broken my little toe based on the #10 level of pain—enough to make me cry—I was experiencing. I am not inexperienced in the pain of a broken bone having broken my right shoulder and shattered my left wrist in recent years.

“Better call Amber to come and get the kids,” I advised Randy as I moved to the sofa so I could elevate my foot. Already I was feeling bad about BINGO and ruining everyone’s day. While we waited for our eldest to arrive from the south metro, the trio played BINGO, enough for the kids to win quarters. Randy also hung laundry on the line and I sneaked in a few comforting hugs from Izzy and Isaac.

By that time the siblings realized their stay with Grandma and Grandpa was ending prematurely. The 3-year-old plopped himself on the living room floor and emphatically declared, “I don’t want to go home! I want to stay!” Finally, I called Isaac over to look at my smartphone calendar to see when we might plan his next overnight visit. That, thankfully, placated him.

Once the grandkids were packed and on their way home with their mom, we focused on getting me to the clinic. I knew not much can be done for a broken toe. But I didn’t want a misaligned toe and future problems if I didn’t get it checked. Randy made calls and was advised I needed to be seen in urgent care since the clinic had no open appointments. Alright then. It was Friday and I expected a long wait awaited me.

But that wasn’t the worst. Randy dropped me off at the door and I hobbled inside…only to learn that urgent care didn’t open until noon. And it was only 10:45. The check-in staff apologized profusely for the failure of the metro-based call center to tell Randy of the noon opening. Their frustration was clear as they advised me to return around 11:45 to register and then wait.

So I limped back out, trying to walk in a way that minimized my pain. I uttered a few words that I wouldn’t want my grandkids to hear.

Since I can’t comfortably wear a shoe, I am now wearing this supportive and protective walking boot/shoe while my sprained little toe and foot heal. Nope, I’m not showing you my awful looking foot. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

When we returned to the clinic, I queued number nine, eventually made my way to x-ray and then got the diagnosis. Much to my surprise, my little toe was not broken, but rather badly sprained. I felt thankful for that mercy. I left with a walking boot and instructions to ice and elevate. Over-the-counter meds manage the pain, which is minimal now. However, my little toe and the adjoining toe plus half of my foot are swollen and bruised.

So that’s my BINGO story. Not one of luck, but rather of unintended bad luck and a whole lot of guilt about sending Isabelle and Isaac home too early. Way too early for this grandma.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Celebrating Faribault’s brewing history with Fleck’s Travaganza! August 19, 2022

The event promotional created by Jeff Jarvis of West Cedar Studio.

MY COMMUNITY WILL CELEBRATE a rich history of brewing this weekend at the Fleck’s Travaganza!, an event honoring Fleckenstein Brewery. The brewery, opened in 1856 and producing assorted beverages for 108 years (until 1964) in two locations along the Straight River bluffs in Faribault, has long garnered local interest.

A historical themed bench outside the RCHS summarizes the Fleckenstein family’s brewery history in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Cheers to Fleck’s beer. This photo is featured on a bench outside the RCHS. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Even more history on a bench by the RCHS. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

The Rice County Historical Society (RCHS) features the brewery in its museum. Local historian Brian Schmidt collects Fleckenstein items and memorabilia. And the State Bank of Faribault displays a sizable collection of brewery items.

The 1946 Fleck’s delivery truck, pre-restoration, in the July 2016 Faribault Car Cruise Night. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

But this weekend all eyes will focus on a restored 1946 Fleckenstein Brewery delivery truck. That truck will lead a parade of vehicles through Faribault (click on link for the route) beginning at 5:30 pm Friday at the RCHS. The parade follows major routes through town, including past my house on Willow Street, and ends along Central Avenue for the Faribault Car Cruise Night.

A building in Faribault’s downtown historic district bears the Fleckenstein name. I took this photo, featured several years ago on the cover of the Faribault tourism magazine, during the July 2016 Car Cruise Night. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

The beer delivery truck will also be parked along Central Avenue on Sunday morning during an invitation only RCHS event for volunteers.

A downtown Faribault mural featuring Fleck’s beer. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

The bank exhibit will be open Friday evening during the Car Cruise in the heart of historic downtown Faribault and also from 9 am – noon Saturday. Just across the street from the bank, a mural features the brewery.

This shows a section of the park, which includes a playground, picnic area and shelter and a river overlook. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

Saturday brings more events with the 10 am dedication of Fleckenstein Bluffs Park along the Straight River in downtown Faribault.

Faribault artist Rhody Yule created this oil painting of the Fleckenstein Brewery in 1976. The building, and the brewery, no longer exist. The 20-foot Fleck’s beer bottle on the right side of the painting sat near the brewery entrance. Children often had their pictures taken here when their parents took a brewery tour. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2011)

At 1 pm, “Fleckenstein Brewery, a History” will be presented by collector and historian Schmidt at the RCHS. Special guest is Al Fleckenstein. Following that, at 3 pm, Schmidt leads a tour of the Fleckenstein Brewery ruins site on the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. Attendance is limited to 50 for the packaged, ticketed events with reservations via the RCHS highly-recommended. Cost for both is $20.

Stacked inside the RCHS Harvest and Heritage Halls are these crates from Fleckenstein Brewing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2015)

If you want to take home a bit of memorabilia, a commemorative bottle of grape pop is available for $5. Specially-made by Spring Grove Beverages in southeastern Minnesota, the soda comes with an original Fleck’s grape pop cap attached. Proceeds from the soda sales benefit the historical society.

I found this Fleck’s beer bottle at LB Antiques in Jordan in February 2017. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Now, the only thing missing—and this comes from someone who appreciates and enjoys craft beers—is Faribault-brewed craft beer. Perhaps some day…

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


More than a garden…a place of peace & respite August 18, 2022

A coneflower up close in the Rice Country Master Gardeners Teaching Garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

ANYONE WHO GARDENS understands just how quickly plants can grow. Sunshine and rain make all the difference.

Vegetables grow in the foreground in this photo, other plants and flowers beyond. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A month had passed between visits to the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Garden located at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. And in those few weeks, the vegetables, flowers and other plants grew in length, height and width, some blossoming, some with fruit emerging.

A mini sunflower of sorts (I think) bursts color into the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

There are signs aplenty in this teaching garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

An eggplant blossom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

To walk here again among the prairie flowers, the zinnias, the hydrangea and hosta, the burpless cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes and much more is to feel a deep connection to the earth. For it is the soil which roots, which feeds these plants watered by the sky, energized by the sun.

Gardening equipment stashed in a secure area next to the conservation building by the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And it is volunteer gardeners who plant and tend this beautiful garden for the enjoyment of many. Like me. I appreciate their time, their efforts, their desire to create this peaceful place in my community.

This broad-leafed plant name fascinates me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Aiming the camera down at Silver Mound, a wispy plant that I’ve never seen before. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A cucumber forming. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

To visit this spot is to understand how much we each need such a contemplative place. A place simply to meander along wood chip or brick pathways, pausing to appreciate the likes of broad-leafed Pig Squeak or the silvery sheen of Silver Mound or a little-finger-sized prickly cucumber or a Prickly Pear Cactus. There’s a lot to take in among the vast plant varieties.

One of the man-made tree stumps gurgles water. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The water feature is to the right of this centering circle. Across the way are an historic church and school, part of the Rice County Historical Society. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And then there’s the water, oh, the water. No garden feature soothes more than a fountain. Here five replica tree stumps spill water into a shallow pond, a focal point defined by a circle of bricks connected to brick paths.

I notice details, like a feather in a bird bath. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Even a bird bath drew my attention with a feather floating therein.

A lily blooms in early August. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The garden also features an arch for climbing clematis, which bloomed profusely earlier in the summer. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A bee house posted on a tree by the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Strategically situated benches offer sitting spots to pass the time, chat, read a book or simply take in the garden, the being outdoors, in nature. In this fast-paced world of technology and a deluge of news that is often awful and horrible and unsettling, this garden provides a respite. Nature has a way of working calm into our beings. Easing stress and anxiety. Lifting spirits.

Lovely flowers fill the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the challenges which have defined my life in 2022, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for this garden. I feel at peace here among the flowers and vegetables, the birds and butterflies, bushes and trees, here under the southern Minnesota sky.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling